LONG before Love Island, these were the reality stars that had the nation glued to their screens.
ITV documentary Seven Up! became the first TV show to record real people living their lives.
Inspired by the Jesuit motto “Give me a child of seven, and I will give you the man”, it featured a group of seven-year-olds from different social backgrounds and was intended to be a one-off special in 1964.
But Michael Apted – who has directed and narrated the series over nearly six decades and later worked on Bond movie The World Is Not Enough and espionage thriller Enigma – decided to film the group every seven years.
From heartbreak to homelessness and to health problems, the award-winning Up series has shown the 14 “stars” dealing with everything life has thrown them.
Now, as the group near retirement age, the programme returns on ITV tonight with the first of the three-part 63 Up, which airs over three successive evenings.
Here, two of the subjects of the show tell what it’s been like to live their lives under a microscope.
We also catch up with the rest of the group.
COCKNEY cabbie Tony Walker is used to getting recognised as one of the cast from Seven Up.
But even he was surprised when he had Buzz Aldrin in his taxi — and got asked for his autograph rather than the former astronaut.
Tony says: “I picked up Buzz Aldrin outside the Grosvenor House Hotel a few years ago when another taxi pulled up and the driver asked for an autograph.
“I said, ‘Mr Aldrin, can he get your autograph?’ but the cabbie shouted, ‘No, I don’t want his autograph — I want yours.’”
“I had to laugh. I was more famous than him and he was the second man on the moon.”
Born in Bethnal Green, East London, Tony wanted to be a jockey when he was first filmed aged seven. By 14, he had achieved his dream and had become an apprentice jockey, leaving school the following year.
IT’S NOT CONTRIVED
He even raced against the legendary Lester Piggott. But by 21 he was taking The Knowledge and seven years later he owned his own London cab.
At 42, the dad-of-three had left London and was living in Loughton, Essex, with wife Debbie, now 63 and also a London cabbie.
He remains proud of his roots, adding: “I’m a working class cheeky chappie cabbie.”
In 49 Up, Tony and Debbie had taken out a second mortgage to buy a holiday home in Spain.
But they were forced to sell after the recession hit, leaving them in financial difficulties at the time.
He says with a laugh: “I put a lot of eggs in the basket and it was a great heartache. But my motto is, ‘Tomorrow’s another day’.”
Tony, who has six grandchildren, has perhaps been the most candid with the film crew when talking about his life but baulks at any comparisons between the series and today’s reality shows. He says: “Rest assured this is certainly not contrived. I’m always truthful.”
A part-time actor, Tony, who has appeared in The Sweeney and The Child In Time, alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, admits he “cried his eyes out” watching ITV’s 63 Up at a special screening.
Buzz Aldrin was in my taxi and a cabbie asked for an autograph… not Buzz’s, MINE
He says: “I got very sentimental thinking of my mum and dad and how proud they would have been seeing me on it and over me not making it as a jockey, which was obviously my dream.”
He says he “trusts the crew” in how they portray his life but feels director Michael Apted got the wrong impression when he filmed him as a 21-year-old.
Tony recalls: “I went to school with the Krays and he had me driving around their old haunts in the East End. He perceived me as being a wrong ’un and ending up in prison. But the stables made me more disciplined. I went there with my a*** hanging out and three years later I came out a man.”
Six years ago Tony suffered a blockage in an artery, yet despite his health problems, he has no plans to retire. He says: “I love my job as a cabbie. You couldn’t find a more compatible job.”
- 63 Up is on ITV at 9pm tonight, tomorrow and Thursday.
JACKIE Bassett still struggles to understand the public’s fascination with the series.
She says: “I get contacted by people from all over the world. The ardent fans have been really looking forward to this one.
“I know a lot of people get enjoyment out of it but I still can’t understand why people watch – or why they want their picture with me.”
Asked what it feels like to be famous, she says: “I don’t know about that. Infamous, some people would say.” Jackie, from East London and now living in Motherwell, North Lanarks, was married by 21 and working in a bank. By 35 she was divorced.
Despite being adamant in her early 20s that she didn’t want children, she went on to have sons, Charlie, 30, James, 27, and Lee, 26.
Jackie, a grandmother of five, said: “Two of my boys are still at home. It’s funny because I can’t imagine my life not having them.” She later split with partner Ian Mullen but they remained close until his death in a car accident in 2011.
The crew are like family
Jackie, who took early retirement due to arthritis, revealed she once walked out of filming when asked about men and marriage – as she wanted to discuss politics.
But she she feels “privileged” to be a part of the show, adding: “The crew and other contributors have become like family. The director Michael Apted and I haven’t got along at times but I know if something serious happened, he’d be there to help.”
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Lives of other 12
TV producer has refused to take part since 21 Up and tried to sue Michael Apted when he refused to remove him from archive sequences.
Shy boarding school pupil was married with three children by 28 and a bereavement counsellor. Will not take part in 63 Up.